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July 17, 2018

"Meditation Is Demotivating"




(p. 6) . . . on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. A central technique of mindfulness meditation, after all, is to accept things as they are. Yet companies want their employees to be motivated. And the very notion of motivation -- striving to obtain a more desirable future -- implies some degree of discontentment with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.

To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation. As we report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, we found strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.



For the full commentary, see:

Kathleen D. Vohs and Andrew C. Hafenbrack. "GRAY MATTER; Don't Meditate at Work." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 14, 2018, and has the title "GRAY MATTER; Hey Boss, You Don't Want Your Employees to Meditate.")


The article by Hafenbrack and Vohs, mentioned above, is:

Hafenbrack, Andrew C., and Kathleen D. Vohs. "Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 147 (July 2018): 1-15.






July 16, 2018

Chinese Communists Subsidize Ghost Town Construction




(p. C3) In China's Inner Mongolia province, in the middle of the Gobi desert, row upon row of largely vacant apartment towers line the streets of Kangbashi, a new district of the city of Ordos. Earlier this month, Xu Yongfen and his family moved into one 28-story building. In the hallways there are a few signs of life--tricycles, slippers and pink children's shoes in front of some doors. But most apartments remain unoccupied, their doors still covered in plastic wrap, and at street level, barren storefronts are visible in all directions. "This area is nearly totally empty," Mr. Xu says, tapping a cigarette into a bowl of ashes at his dining room table.

The city has spent 14 years planning, erecting and maintaining Kangbashi, which has the distinction of being one of China's best-known "ghost towns"--gleaming but sparsely populated new urban centers adjacent to older metropolises. Built by the dozen across the country, the new areas reflect--and were meant to accelerate--China's economic boom. As the country's growth has slowed, many of them have become serious liabilities, deep in debt, with little prospect of full occupancy anytime soon.


. . .

Many of China's other ghost towns have yet to figure out how to jumpstart their economies without slipping back into the old pattern of borrowing and building. To become economically viable, some may take 20 or 30 years, or "maybe even forever," said Zhou Jiangping, a professor of urban planning at the University of Hong Kong. In some cases, Mr. Zhou said, local officials encouraged ambitious plans to advance their own careers: "You see all these empty towns, these areas at the edge of cities. They may symbolize the power of some officials." Because many of them then move on to other jobs, he said, they didn't think about ensuring long-term growth.


. . .


Ordos City Investment Real Estate Development Co. recently resumed work on two housing projects that it had set aside five years ago, including Mr. Xu's complex. "Kangbashi's real-estate sales improved, so our company decided to restart construction," said Wang Tianyong, a branch manager, noting that the government's subsidy program favors new projects.



For the full story, see:

Dominique Fong. "China's Ghost Towns Haunt Its Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018.)






July 15, 2018

It No Longer Pays to Recycle




(p. B1) Oregon is serious about recycling. Its residents are accustomed to dutifully separating milk cartons, yogurt containers, cereal boxes and kombucha bottles from their trash to divert them from the landfill. But this year, because of a far-reaching rule change in China, some of the recyclables are ending up in the local dump anyway.

In recent months, in fact, thousands of tons of material left curbside for recycling in dozens of American cities and towns -- including several in Oregon -- have gone to landfills.


. . .


(p. B5) Recycling companies "used to get paid" by selling off recyclable materials, said Peter Spendelow, a policy analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon. "Now they're paying to have someone take it away."

In some places, including parts of Idaho, Maine and Pennsylvania, waste managers are continuing to recycle but are passing higher costs on to customers, or are considering doing so.

"There are some states and some markets where mixed paper is at a negative value," said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, which handles 10 million tons of recycling per year. "We'll let our customers make that decision, if they'd like to pay more and continue to recycle or to pay less and have it go to landfill."

Mr. Spendelow said companies in rural areas, which tend to have higher expenses to get their materials to market, were being hit particularly hard. "They're literally taking trucks straight to the landfill," he said.



For the full story, see:

Livia Albeck-Ripka. "Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not?" The New York Times (Thursday, May 31, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 29, 2018.)






July 14, 2018

For Job Creation, Firm Youth and Fast Growth Matter More than Small Size




(p. C3) Economist David Birch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claimed in the late 1970s--inaccurately, as it turned out--that small businesses were the jobs engine of the economy, which allowed advocates to argue that aid to small businesses was a driver of economic growth. This narrative was reinforced by the wave of startups in the tech sector in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2000, all new businesses, no matter how technologically primitive or undercapitalized, were being called startups. A new biotech company was a startup, but so was a new three-person lawn-mowing business. Only child-labor laws prevented lemonade stands from being classified as startups, too.

A 2010 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed, however, that it is the age of a firm, not its size, that matters for job creation. Just as children grow faster than adults, young firms grow faster than mature ones.


. . .


Government at every level can certainly do more to eliminate unnecessary regulations and to streamline those regulations that serve crucial public ends. But such reforms should benefit all businesses, regardless of size.


. . .


Beyond the injustice of it, small-business favoritism reverberates throughout the economy, slowing growth in two ways. First, subsidies and other size-based industrial policies slow productivity growth by enabling less efficient small firms to gain more market share than would otherwise be the case. Second, discriminatory policies provide an incentive for small firms to remain small. Why add five more workers when doing so would subject you to a host of new regulations and restrict your access to government handouts?



For the full commentary, see:

Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind. "Stop Propping Up Small Business." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 7, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 6, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Atkinson, ‎ Robert D., and Michael Lind. Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018.


The published version of the 2010 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, mentioned above, is:

Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. "Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young." Review of Economics and Statistics 95, no. 2 (May 2013): 347-61.






July 13, 2018

Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Fall in Price and Rise in Ease of Programming




(p. B4) Robots are moving off the assembly line.

Collaborative robots that work alongside humans--"cobots"--are getting cheaper and easier to program. That is encouraging businesses to put them to work at new tasks in bars, restaurants and clinics.

In the Netherlands, a cobot scales a 26-foot-high bar to tap bottles of homemade gin, whiskey and limoncello so that bartenders don't need to climb ladders. In Japan, a cobot boxes takeout dumplings. In Singapore, robots give soft-tissue massages.

Cobots made up just 5% of the $14 billion industrial-robot market in 2017, according to research by Minneapolis-based venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. Loup estimates sales will jump to 27% of a $33 billion market by 2025 as demand for the robotic arms rises. About 20 manufacturers around the world have started selling such robots in the past decade.



For the full story, see:

Natasha Khan. "Robots Shift From Factories to New Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 11, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2018, and has the title "Your Next Robot Encounter: Dinner, Drinks and a Massage.")






July 12, 2018

China Will Fail to Corner the Lithium Market




(p. B12) Since emerging as an industrial superpower in the 2000s, China has repeatedly tried to lock up essential resources like iron ore and so-called rare earths. The latest example is lithium, a key battery element: . . . .


. . .


The reality is more mundane.


. . .


. . . it will take just $13 billion in investment to satisfy annual lithium consumption as of 2030, against more $100 billion for nickel and copper.

Even if only a relatively small amount of mining capital spending migrates from mainstays like iron ore into lithium over the next decade, supply probably won't be a huge problem.



For the full story, see:

Nathaniel Taplin. "China Won't Be Able to Dominate Lithium Mining Forever." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 18, 2018): B12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title "China Won't Dominate Lithium Forever." The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)






July 11, 2018

Splendid, Excellent, Salubrious, Salutary, Healthy, Great Jobs Numbers




(p. A16) The real question in analyzing the May jobs numbers released Friday [June 1, 2018] is whether there are enough synonyms for "good" in an online thesaurus to describe them adequately.

So, for example, "splendid" and "excellent" fit the bill. Those are the kinds of terms that are appropriate when the United States economy adds 223,000 jobs in a month, despite being nine years into an expansion, and when the unemployment rate falls to 3.8 percent, a new 18-year low.

"Salubrious," "salutary" and "healthy" work as words to describe the 0.3 percent rise in average hourly earnings, which are up 2.7 percent over the last year -- a nice improvement but also not the kind of sharp increase that might lead the Federal Reserve to rethink its cautious path of interest rate increases.

And a broader definition of unemployment, which includes people who have given up looking for a job out of frustration, fell to 7.6 percent. The jobless rate for African-Americans fell to 5.9 percent, the lowest on record, which we would count as "great."

If anything, some of the thesaurus offerings don't really do these numbers justice.


. . .


It isn't perfect -- wage growth remains unexceptional despite its growth spurt in May, and the ratio of prime-age adults working remains below its historical levels.

But it has been a strikingly durable and steady expansion, which is what the nation needed after the scars of the 2008 recession. And that's just plain "good."



For the full story, see:

Neil Irwin. "How Good? Words Fail Us." The New York Times (Saturday, June 2, 2018: A16.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 1, 2018, and has the title "We Ran Out of Words to Describe How Good the Jobs Numbers Are." The online version says the print version appeared on May 6 on p. A17 of the New York Edition. My print version, as usual, was the National Edition.)






July 10, 2018

Those Born Poor, Benefit Less from College Degree




(p. A23) It's a cruel irony that a college degree is worth less to people who most need a boost: those born poor. This revelation was made by the economists Tim Bartik and Brad Hershbein. Using a body of data, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which includes 50 years of interviews with 18,000 Americans, they were able to follow the lives of children born into poor, middle-class and wealthy families.

They found that for Americans born into middle-class families, a college degree does appear to be a wise investment. Those in this group who received one earned 162 percent more over their careers than those who didn't.

But for those born into poverty, the results were far less impressive. College graduates born poor earned on average only slightly more than did high school graduates born middle class. And over time, even this small "degree bonus" ebbed away, at least for men: By middle age, male college graduates raised in poverty were earning less than nondegree holders born into the middle class. The scholars conclude, "Individuals from poorer backgrounds may be encountering a glass ceiling that even a bachelor's degree does not break."


. . .


It shouldn't here, either: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 20 percent of American jobs actually require a bachelor's degree. By 2026, the bureau estimates that this proportion will rise, but only to 25 percent.

Why do employers demand a degree for jobs that don't require them? Because they can.

What all this suggests is that the college-degree premium may really be a no-college-degree penalty.



For the full commentary, see:


Ellen Ruppel Shell. "College May Not Be Worth It Anymore." The New York Times (Thursday, May 17, 2018): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 16, 2018. The online version is substantially longer, and in some places has different wording, than the print version. Where the wording of a quoted passage differs, my quotation above follows the print version.)


The research by Tim Bartik and Brad Hershbein, mentioned above, is:

Bartik, Timothy J., and Brad J. Hershbein. "Degrees of Poverty: The Relationship between Family Income Background and the Returns to Education." Upjohn Institute Working Paper 18-284, March 2018.


Shell's commentary is related to her forthcoming book:

Shell, Ellen Ruppel. The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change. New York: Currency, 2018.






July 9, 2018

Experimental Immunotherapy Holds Hope of Curing Metastasized Solid Tumor Cancers




(p. B3) WASHINGTON--A novel immunotherapy method led to complete regression of breast cancer in a metastatic patient unresponsive to all other treatments, National Cancer Institute researchers said, suggesting a way to reverse some other internal-organ cancers.

The findings, from the NCI laboratory headed by Steven A. Rosenberg, were published Monday in the medical journal Nature Medicine.

The scientific report largely focused on the course of treatment for one patient, Judy Perkins of Port St. Lucie, Fla.


. . .


The research remains experimental, Dr. Rosenberg said in an interview.

"But because this new approach to immunotherapy is dependent on mutations, not on cancer type, it is in a sense a blueprint we can use for the treatment of many types of cancer," he said. "This could be the future of immunotherapy."

Dr. Rosenberg, who has investigated for three decades how the immune system can be employed to fight cancer, said he is hopeful this approach "holds the best opportunities for finding effective immunotherapies for patients with the solid tumors that last year caused over 500,000 deaths in this country."



For the full story, see:

Thomas M. Burton. "Cancer-Fighting 'Blueprint' Seen." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 5, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2018, and has the title "Novel Immunotherapy Method Led to Complete Regression of Breast Cancer in Patient.")






July 8, 2018

"Plumbing Industry Is Throwing the Kitchen Sink at Job Candidates"




(p. A1) FORT COLLINS, Colo.--The fast-growing business offers all the perks a pampered Silicon Valley tech worker might expect: An on-site tap flows with craft beer and the kitchen is stocked with locally roasted espresso beans. There is a putting green and a smoker for brisket lunches. Next up: a yoga studio.

Welcome to the gushing job market...for plumbers.

Colorado's Neuworks Mechanical Inc. employs 75 plumbers but needs 15 to 20 more. To keep them happy, it offers "a lot of Zen," says business-development manager Jackie Sindelar. That includes a sharing exercise that "brings out your raw emotions and makes you vulnerable," she says.

Drained from a labor shortage, the plumbing industry is throwing the kitchen sink at job candidates.

Bonfe's Plumbing, Heating & Air Service Inc. of South St. Paul, Minn., boasts an array of arcade games and a "quiet room"--a plush hangout space with insulated walls painted a calming sky blue. It has a lockable door, a comfy couch, a recliner and a sound machine that babbles with the soothing audio of ocean waves.


. . .


U.S. job openings hit a record 6.6 million in March, with the construction industry--where plumbers are heavily employed--seeing one of the largest jumps.

Building, needed repairs and retirements are fueling demand for plumbers at the same time the U.S. jobless rate in April fell below 4% for the first time since late 2000.

The annual median pay for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was nearly $53,000 a year in 2017, according to federal data, but it isn't uncommon to see jobs advertised for far higher wages, from $70,000 up to six figures.



For the full story, see:

Levitz, Jennifer. "Plumbing Firms, Drained by Labor Shortage, Tap Perks." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 24, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis internal to sentence, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 23, 2018, and has the title "Perks for Plumbers: Hawaiian Vacations, Craft Beer and 'a Lot of Zen'." The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)






July 7, 2018

Google Nurtures Cats That Eat Threatened Owls




(p. 1) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Silicon Valley is booming, and longtime residents are being driven out everywhere. But only in Shoreline Park are the newcomers eating the natives.

A handful of burrowing owls live in this 750-acre wildlife and recreation area, deep in the grass. As the breeding season begins, they are among perhaps 50 left in Silicon Valley. A California species of "special concern," burrowing owls nest in the ground. That makes them especially vulnerable.

Death strikes hard at Shoreline. The remains of an owl -- a leg, a wing, a few scattered feathers -- were found here in 2015, shortly after a feral cat was seen stalking it. Another owl was discovered dead near its burrow, and a third disappeared that year and was presumed killed. That was fully half the owls nesting in the park.

Environmentalists have been alarmed for a long time about the number of cats at Shoreline, but they could not determine where they were coming from. Gradually, public records requests and old-fashioned snooping uncovered a trail. It led southwest from the sun-burnished slopes of the park, up Permanente Creek and into the ever-expanding empire of Google.

Google never set out to threaten biodiversity in its front yard, of (p. 4) course. Like so many stories these days about Big Tech, this is a tale about how attempts to do good often produce unexpected consequences, and how even smart people (especially, perhaps, smart people) can be reluctant to rethink their convictions.

At Google, it is not so much that workers do not like birds as it is that they really love cats. There is an employee group called GCat Rescue that traps the cats around the so-called Googleplex. Kittens and friendly adults are put up for adoption. Less-friendly adult cats are neutered and released.

Google is famous for feeding its employees well, and the cats are no different. Every night, all night, dinner is served from cat-feeding stations. The cat community calls this approach "colony care."


. . .


"Cats that are fed still hunt," said Mr. Longcore, assistant professor of architecture, spatial sciences and biological sciences at the University of Southern California. "Even neutered cats and spayed cats hunt." He added, "If you have an outdoor cat sanctuary, you can expect there to be consequences to the native wildlife."



For the full story, see:

Streitfeld, David. "Google Doesn't Hate Owls. It Just Loves Cats." The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 27, 2018): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2018, and has the title "As Google Feeds Cats, Owl Lovers Cry Foul." The online version says the print version appeared on May 6 on p. A17 of the New York Edition. My print version, as usual, was the National Edition.)






July 6, 2018

Assigning Property Rights to Internet Data Creators




(p. C3) Congress has stepped up talk of new privacy regulations in the wake of the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, which improperly gained access to the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users. Even Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified that he thought new federal rules were "inevitable." But to understand what regulation is appropriate, we need to understand the source of the problem: the absence of a real market in data, with true property rights for data creators. Once that market is in place, implementing privacy protections will be easy.

We often think of ourselves as consumers of Facebook, Google, Instagram and other internet services. In reality, we are also their suppliers--or more accurately, their workers. When we post and label photos on Facebook or Instagram, use Google maps while driving, chat in multiple languages on Skype or upload videos to YouTube, we are generating data about human behavior that the companies then feed into machine-learning programs.

These programs use our personal data to learn patterns that allow them to imitate human behavior and understanding. With that information, computers can recognize images, translate languages, help viewers choose among shows and offer the speediest route to the mall. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft (where one of us works) sell these tools to other companies. They also use our data to match advertisers with consumers.

Defenders of the current system often say that we don't give away our personal data for free. Rather, we're paid in the form of the services that we receive. But this exchange is bad for users, bad for society and probably not ideal even for the tech companies. In a real market, consumers would have far more power over the exchange: Here's my data. What are you willing to pay for it?

An internet user today probably would earn only a few hundred dollars a year if companies paid for data. But that amount could grow substantially in the coming years. If the economic reach of AI systems continues to expand--into drafting legal contracts, diagnosing diseases, performing surgery, making investments, driving trucks, managing businesses--they will need vast amounts of data to function.

And if these systems displace human jobs, people will have plenty of time to supply that data. Tech executives fearful that AI will cause mass unemployment have advocated a universal basic income funded by increased taxes. But the pressure for such policies would abate if users were simply compensated for their data.



For the full commentary, see:

Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl. "Want Our Personal Data? Pay for It." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 20, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Posner, Eric A., and E. Glen Weyl. Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






July 5, 2018

Hot Students Learn Less





More evidence on why air conditioning increases our mental acuity:



(p. A5) Hot weather makes it more difficult for high-school students to learn, a new study suggests.


. . .


The study was circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research as a working paper by Mr. Goodman and three other researchers.

They found that, on average, every increase of 1 degree Fahrenheit in the average temperature during the school year reduced learning by about 1%.



For the full story, see:

Ben Leubsdorf. "Heat Found to Hurt Studies." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 8, 2018): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2018, and has the title "American Students Don't Learn Well When It's Hot Outside." The online version is substantially longer, and in some places has different wording, than the print version. Where the wording of a quoted passage differs, my quotation above follows the print version.)


The NBER paper, mentioned above, is:

Goodman, Joshua, Michael Hurwitz, Jisung Park, and Jonathan Smith. "Heat and Learning." National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper Series, # 24639, May 2018.






July 4, 2018

After Losing Circus Job, Clown Applies His Skills by Running for Congress as a Democrat




(p. A1) As an elephant handler for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Lauren Ramsay used to spend her time herding four-ton pachyderms.

As an elephant handler for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Lauren Ramsay used to spend her time herding four-ton pachyderms.

Last May, the circus closed down after 146 years traveling the country and thrilling millions with "the Greatest Show on Earth." In the year since, the contortionists, acrobats, stilt walkers and other per-(p. A8)formers have walked a tightrope trying to adapt to more-conventional jobs, while sometimes using their circus skills. It takes some professional clowns a while to find a second act: One is now running for Congress.

Former clown Sandor Eke, of Las Vegas, Nev., wanted to put his entertaining and juggling skills to work behind a bar after 20 years with the circus. But nobody would hire him without experience. He's now picking up random clown jobs and painting houses. "I try to have fun with it, but it's not exactly what I wanted with life. I mean, I used to be a clown!"

In April, Mr. Eke auditioned for a mascot job with the Oakland Raiders once they move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season. He tried on the "Rushing Raider" costume, and did what he called a "crowd-pleasing routine." He's waiting to hear back, but remains hopeful. "I got good vibes," he says.


. . .


Former clown Steve Lough, of Camden, S.C., who left the circus in 2004, later found employment working for McDonald's at special events and volunteering for political campaigns.

This spring, Mr. Lough decided to run for office himself and is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Congress in South Carolina. "I juggle at every campaign stop now," he says.

He did a pratfall at the South Carolina Democratic Convention in April that "got a big reaction and laugh."


. . .


. . . Mr. Lough says the crowds love his clown skills.



For the full story, see:

John Clarke. "Ex-Clown Is Hard to Hide on a Résumé." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 22, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 21, 2018, and has the title "What's A Clown to Do After the Circus? One Is Running for Congress.")






July 3, 2018

"Entrepreneurial Capitalism Takes More People Out of Poverty Than Aid"




(p. A15) Some 44% of millennials believe they do more to support social causes than the rest of their family, according to the 2017 Millennial Impact report. If you're volunteering at shelters or working for most nonprofits, that's all very nice, but it's one-off. You're one of the privileged few who have the education to create lasting change. It may feel good to ladle soup to the hungry, but you're wasting valuable brain waves that could be spent ushering in a future in which no one is hungry to begin with.

There's a word that was probably never mentioned by your professors: Scale. No, not the stuff on the bottom of your bong or bathtub. It's the concept of taking a small idea and finding ways to implement it for thousands, or millions, or even billions. Without scale, ideas are no more than hot air. Stop doing the one-off two-step. It's time to scale up.


. . .


If you don't think I'm credible, you too can listen to Bono. As he told Georgetown students a few years ago, "Entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid." Of course it does. Want to change the world? Stop doing one-off volunteering and scale up.



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. "Advice to New Grads: Scale or Bail." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 21, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2018.)






July 2, 2018

Lenin "Sought to Destroy" Russian Peasants




(p. B14) A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in "Russia Under the Old Regime," abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.

One of his most original contributions was to locate many of Russia's woes in its failure to evolve beyond its status as a patrimonial state, a term he borrowed from the German sociologist Max Weber to characterize Russian absolutism, in which the czar not only ruled but also owned his domain and its inhabitants, nullifying the concepts of private property and individual freedom.

With "The Russian Revolution" (1990), Professor Pipes mounted a frontal assault on many of the premises and long-held convictions of mainstream Western specialists on the Bolshevik seizure of power. That book, which began with the simple Russian epigraph "To the victims," took a prosecutorial stance toward the Bolsheviks and their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who still commanded a certain respect and sympathy among Western historians.

Professor Pipes, a moralist shaped by his experiences as a Jew who had fled the Nazi occupation of Poland, would have none of it. He presented the Bolshevik Party as a conspiratorial, deeply unpopular clique rather than the spearhead of a mass movement. He shed new and harsh light on the Bolshevik campaign against the peasantry, which, he argued, Lenin had sought to destroy as a reactionary class. He also accused Lenin of laying the foundation of the terrorist state that his successor, Joseph Stalin, perfected.

"I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences," Professor Pipes wrote in a memoir. "Since scholars have written enough on the Holocaust, I thought it my mission to demonstrate this truth using the example of communism."


. . .


In "The Russian Revolution," he wrote:

"The Russian Revolution was made neither by the forces of nature nor by anonymous masses but by identifiable men pursuing their own advantages. Although it has spontaneous aspects, in the main it was the result of deliberate action. As such it is very properly subject to value judgment."



For the full obituary, see:

William Grimes. "Richard Pipes, Historian Of Russia and Adviser To Reagan, Dies at 94." The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): B14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title "Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94.")


The early Pipes book, mentioned above, is:

Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Old Regime. revised 2nd ed. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997 [1st ed. 1974].


The later Pipes book, mentioned above, is:

Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. revised 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1990.






July 1, 2018

Stornetta and Nakamoto Invented Bitcoin




(p. C18) In 1990, the physicist Scott Stornetta had a eureka moment while getting ice cream with his family at a Friendly's restaurant in Morristown, N.J. He and his cryptographer colleague, Stuart Haber, had been thinking about the proliferation of digital files that accompanied the rise of personal computing and the ease with which files could be altered. They wondered how we might know for certain what was true about the past. What would prevent tampering with the historical record--and would it be possible to protect such information for future generations?

The sticking point was the need to trust a central authority. But at Friendly's, an answer came to Dr. Stornetta: He realized that instead of a central record-keeper, the system could have many dispersed but interconnected copies of a shared ledger. The truth could never be typed over if there were too many linked ledgers to alter.

Drs. Haber and Stornetta were working at the time at Bellcore, a research center descended from the legendary Bell Labs. The pair set out to build a cryptographically secure archive--a way to verify records without revealing their contents.


. . .


. . . there is no mistaking their crucial contribution. When the founding document of bitcoin was published in 2008 under the name " Satoshi Nakamoto "--a pseudonym for one or more scientists--it had just eight citations of previous works. Three of them were papers co-authored by Drs. Haber and Stornetta.


, , ,


The Nakamoto paper revolutionized the foundational work of Drs. Stornetta and Haber by adding the concept of "mining" cryptocurrencies. It created financial incentives for participation in retaining and verifying parts of the blockchain ledger.



For the full commentary, see:

Amy Whitaker. "The Eureka Moment That Made Bitcoin Possible; A key insight for the technology came to a physicist almost three decades ago at a Friendly's restaurant in New Jersey." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 26, 2018): C18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 25, 2018.)






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